Thursday, January 31, 2008
The ecumenical patriarch will be represented by the Metropolitan of Pergamon, Ioannis Zizioulas, whilst the Church of Estonia will send the metropolitan of Tallinn. Moscow has yet to respond to the invitation and it is still possible that it may reject it.
The evocative celebration of Byzantine Vespers in Saint George’s Church, in the Fanar, seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, marked the conclusion of the prayer for Christian unity.
Indeed it was no accident that it all took place before the relics of Saint John Chrysostom, which Pope John Paul II returned in 2004, a sign that Christian unity is a duty.
He explained that the Fanar, in co-ordination with other Churches, is a member of many organisations that promote dialogue geared towards Christian unity in order that full communion may be speedily achieved.
The speech Bartholomew made before the new bishop of Hong Kong Nektarios received his crucifix was also significant. In it he stressed the importance of Christian witness in the lands of the East.
“We cannot disappoint them,” said Bartholomew. “Ignorance, suspicions, cultural and political prejudices, intolerance, the legacy of the past and some errors we Christians made give rise to hard-to-solve situations, creating less than friendly attitudes towards Christian missionaries. This is why, as members of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we must make sacrifices for one’s fellow man as did Saint Paul whose birth 2,000 years ago we celebrate this year.” (NT)
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt was being treated Tuesday at the Cleveland Clinic, where he had previously undergone surgery, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The clinic didn't plan to release any additional information about Pope Shenouda III, 84, said clinic spokeswoman Heather Phillips.
Pope Shenouda was scheduled to consecrate the church Tuesday at St. Mary's Coptic Church in Columbus, said Mary Sedarous, daughter of the Rev. Sedarous A. Sedarous, the church's pastor. She said he was taken to the hospital Monday night.
The cleric suffers from chronic cholecystitis, or stones in his gall bladder that cause a high fever and severe pain, and was hospitalized in November in Cairo.
He had spinal surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in October 2006.
The Coptic Church is the native Christian church of Egypt, and has a doctrine similar to the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches.
Pope Shenouda has led the church since 1971. Copts are believed to be 10 percent of Egypt's 77 million population, making up the largest Christian community in the Middle East.
Under his leadership, the church has established congregations in the United States, South America, New Zealand and Australia. It has more than 100 North American congregations, up from four in 1971.
Associated Press Writers Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland and Nadia Abou el-Magd in Cairo contributed to this report.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Synaxis of the Ecumenical Teachers and Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom
Commemorated on January 30
Synaxis of the Three Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom: During the eleventh century, disputes raged in Constantinople about which of the three hierarchs was the greatest. Some preferred St Basil (January 1), others honored St Gregory the Theologian (January 25), while a third group exalted St John Chrysostom (November 13).
Dissension among Christians increased. Some called themselves Basilians, others referred to themselves as Gregorians, and others as Johnites.
By the will of God, the three hierarchs appeared to St John the Bishop of Euchaita (June 14) in the year 1084, and said that they were equal before God. "There are no divisions among us, and no opposition to one another."
They ordered that the disputes should stop, and that their common commemoration should be celebrated on a single day. Bishop John chose January 30 for their joint Feast, thus ending the controversy and restoring peace.
Troparion - Tone 1
Let us who love their words gather togetherand honor with hymns the three great torch-bearers of the triune Godhead:Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom.These men have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines.They are sweetly-flowing rivers of wisdomfilling all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge.Ceaselessly they intercede for us before the Holy Trinity!
Kontakion - Tone 2
O Lord, You have taken up to eternal restand to the enjoyment of Your blessingsthe divinely-inspired heralds, the greatest of Your teachers,for You have accepted their labors and deaths as a sweet-smelling sacrifice,for You alone are glorified in Your saints!
By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org/
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has attacked the Bessarabian Metropolitanate's religious freedom on visits to Brussels and Moscow, Forum 18 News Service notes. During a press conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on 14 January, Voronin stated that he had not ever threatened to revoke the registration of the Metropolitanate. He then claimed its existence could lead to a Kosovo-style conflict. Repeating his attacks after meeting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy, Voronin claimed that the Metropolinate "is part of Romania's aggressive policy." Presidential spokesperson Natalia Visanu told Forum 18 that "he merely said that if there are problems it could come to the point of looking again at its registration," she told Forum 18. Asked about the Kosovo-style conflict claim, Visanu stated that "the President said (..) the government could look at the question of not fulfilling the decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)." The Metropolitanate only achieved registration after a fine imposed on Moldova by the ECHR. A wide range of Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim communities are still denied registration.
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has stepped up his rhetoric against the freedom of thought, conscience and belief of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate on visits to Brussels and Moscow, Forum 18 News Service notes. During a joint press conference with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on 14 January, Voronin stated that he had not ever threatened to revoke the registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate. However, he then claimed that the existence of it could lead to a conflict similar to that in Kosovo. His spokesperson Natalia Visanu insisted to Forum 18 that the President's remarks have been "misunderstood". Yet she declined to explain to Forum 18 why Voronin has made repeated hostile remarks about a legally-functioning religious community.
Bessarabian church members have condemned the remarks to Forum 18. "The problems we have faced – including the expulsion of Romanian priests and intrusive check-ups on our parishes – are the consequences of the president's remarks," Deacon Andrei Deleu of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate told Forum 18 (see F18News 28 January 2008 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1076).
A week after Voronin made his remarks in Brussels, he repeated in Moscow his criticism of the Church. "The establishment of the so-called 'Metropolis of Bessarabia' and its structures is part of Romania's aggressive policy against the Moldovan state," Voronin told the Russian Interfax news agency on 21 January after meeting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy.
Presidential spokesperson Visanu vigorously denied that the President had spoken out against the Bessarabian Metropolitanate (though she pointedly avoided ever using the name of the Church to Forum 18). "No-one said that the government should cancel its registration," she insisted to Forum 18 on 17 January. "It is a misunderstanding of the President's remarks. He merely said that if there are problems it could come to the point of looking again at its registration. The President has no powers to strip anyone of registration."
Asked about Voronin's remarks about a Kosovo-style conflict, Visanu responded: "The President said that if events around it are such that it leads to a worsening situation, then the government could look at the question of not fulfilling the decision of the European Court of Human Rights."
The Bessarabian Metropolitanate only achieved registration in 2001 in the wake of a fine imposed on Moldova by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. A similar fine from the ECHR in February 2007 has still failed to overturn the denial of registration to the True Orthodox Church led by Bishop Antoni Rudei (see F18News 8 March 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=926).
The only Orthodox jurisdictions to have been able to gain state registration in Moldova by applying through normal state procedures are the Moscow Patriarchate and the Belokrinitsa Old Believers.
Without registration religious communities have no status in law, cannot run bank accounts, cannot employ people officially, cannot invite foreign citizens, cannot run bank accounts or receive funds, and cannot own, buy or sell property.
Bishop Filaret (Pancu), who leads the diocese in Moldova of the Kiev Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, said that his Church tried to gain registration again in summer 2007. "They give no argument as to why they won't register us – they just won't," told Forum 18 on 17 January. "We won in all the courts, right up to the Supreme Court."
Fr Vasily Ikizli, who leads one of four parishes in Moldova of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Agafangel (Pashkovsky) of Odessa, says his parish was denied registration in 2006. "They won't register any parishes until we have a national body registered, but they won't do that," he told Forum 18 on 24 January from the village of Congaz in the southern Comrat District. He said that about 150 people attend the liturgy each Sunday held in a private house and he wants to build a church. "Without registration that might be difficult."
Also denied registration are all Muslim communities as well as many Protestant congregations (see F18News 24 January 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=902). Talgat Masaev, who leads the Spiritual Organisation of Muslims in Moldova, complained that "someone must have given an order not to register us". He said the Justice Ministry rejected their latest registration application in December 2007, citing inadequacies in the group's statute. "The policy hasn't changed," Masaev lamented.
The Justice Ministry took over registration from the State Service for Religious Denominations in the wake of the adoption of a new Religion Law in 2007 (see F18News 6 August 2007 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1003).Masaev's Muslim group has long complained of police check-ups on those leaving Friday prayers. He said the most recent such check-up was in autumn 2007. "The fact that they check up at Friday prayers is difficult to understand," he told Forum 18. "This and the denial of registration are strange, given that Moldova is supposed to be moving closer to Europe."
The Bessarabian Metropolitanate is the only religious community to have been subjected to such repeated extremely hostile rhetoric from senior officials. Speaking on national television on 30 November, President Voronin condemned the decision by the Romanian Orthodox Church – of which the Bessarabian Metropolitanate is a part - to reactivate three dioceses in Moldova to add to the one existing diocese based in Chisinau. He warned that he does not need "a second Kosovo" in Moldova and threatened to revoke the official registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitanate.
Presidential spokesperson Visanu maintained that there had been no problem with the Bessarabian Metropolitanate having legal status until October 2007, when the new dioceses were created. She claimed their existence created "tension in the country". However, she refused to explain to Forum 18 what tension she was referring to or why the Metropolitanate could not set up its own structures as it chose.
Visanu denied that the recent developments with the Bessarabian Metropolitanate were connected with the rights of religious believers, which she claimed continued to be respected. "This is not the question. Its registration was alright until they restored their dioceses a few months ago, causing tension in society." She insisted there was a "sub-text" to the issue, but refused to spell out what she believed this was.
Asked by Forum 18 why all the non-Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox jurisdictions have faced denial of registration and obstruction of their activity Visanu responded: "The president doesn't have anything against non-Moscow Patriarchate Churches. I can't answer for the State Service on Religious Organisations or the Ministry of Justice. The President can't follow everything." (END)
Further coverage of freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Moldova is available at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=18&results=50.
A printer-friendly map of Moldova is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=europe&Rootmap=moldov.
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Moscow, January 29, Interfax - Head of the property department of the Moscow Patriarchate Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsk has criticized the tradition of celebrating St. Valentine's Day in Russia.
"For some reasons human rights activists are not acting against that even though they could have," he said at a plenary meeting of 16th Christmas Readings in Moscow on Tuesday.
In his opinion, the ideology of marking St. Valentine's day is alien to the Russian cultural tradition.
At the same time the church figure invited Russians to develop their own traditions, for instance, declaring February 14 the Day of the Christian Orthodox Family.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Commemorated on January 29
The Transfer of the Relics of the Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer: (See December 20). After the holy hieromartyr Ignatius was thrown to the lions in the year 107 on the orders of the emperor Trajan, Christians gathered up his bones and preserved them at Rome.
Later, in the year 108, the saint's relics were collected and buried outside the gate of Daphne at Antioch. A second transfer, to the city of Antioch itself, took place in the year 438. After the capture of Antioch by the Persians, the relics of the Hieromartyr Ignatius were returned to Rome and placed into the church of the holy Hieromartyr Clement in the year 540 ( in 637, according to other sources).
St Ignatius introduced antiphonal singing into Church services. He has left us seven archpastoral epistles in which he provided instructions on faith, love and good works. He also urged his flock to preserve the unity of the faith and to beware of heretics. He encouraged people to honor and obey their bishops, "we should regard the bishop as we would the Lord Himself" (To the Ephesians 6)
In his Letter to Polycarp, St Ignatius writes: "Listen to the bishop, if you want God to listen to you... let your baptism be your shield, your faith a helmet, your charity a spear, your patience, like full armor." (Compare Eph. 6:14-17 and the Wisdom of Solomon 5:17-20. Also THE LADDER 4:2)
Troparion - Tone 4
By sharing in the ways of the Apostles,you became you became a successor to their throne.Through the practice of virtue, you found the way to divine contemplation, O inspired one of God; by teaching the word of truth without error, you defended the Faith, even to the shedding of your blood.Hieromartyr Ignatius, entreat Christ God to save our souls.
Kontakion - Tone 4
Today you rose from the east,enlightening all of creation with your teachings, and you are crowned with martyrdom, God-bearing Ignatius.
(above)Jan. 28: A woman cries over the body of Greece's Orthodox Church leader, Archbishop Christodoulos, at Athens Cathedral.
(left)Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, center, walks hand-in-hand with Christodoulos, left, Archbishop of Athens and Head of the Church of Greece.
Monday, January 28, 2008
ATHENS, Greece — Hundreds of mourners, many sobbing, gathered Monday at Athens' cathedral to file past the remains of Archbishop Christodoulos, the first leader of Greece's powerful Orthodox Church to welcome a Catholic pope to Athens in 1,300 years.
The charismatic cleric was often named Greece's most popular public figure but was also criticized as an ambitious reactionary. He died at his home in Athens on Monday at age 69 of cancer, leaving the race for his succession wide open.
Christodoulos has been credited with reinvigorating a church seen as distant from its followers in a country where more than 90 percent of the native-born population is baptized into it.
Greece's Orthodox Church holds considerable sway among the world's Orthodox churches. Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is the spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians.
Arguably the greatest achievement of Christodoulos was helping improve ties with the Vatican.
"The doors of communication with the Catholic Church had rusted over and they were again opened by Archbishop Christodoulos," said the theologian Giorgos Moustakis. "This was a very difficult thing, and it was opposed by powerful fringe religious groups.
Despite vigorous protests from Orthodox zealots who marched through Athens denouncing the pope as the anti-Christ, Christodoulos in 2001 hosted the late John Paul II — the first pope to visit Greece in centuries. The archbishop followed up in 2006 with visit to the Vatican, where he and Pope Benedict XVI signed a joint declaration calling for inter-religious dialogue.
Orthodox zealots supported Christodoulos, however, on one of his most outspoken public campaigns. His efforts to stop the government from dropping the religion entry from state identity cards saw him holding public rallies before hundreds of thousands of people in 2001. The church claimed its petition campaign gathered 3 million signatures — more than a quarter of the population. But the campaign failed.
Christodoulos was elected church leader in 1998 and thundered onto the public stage, appearing on television and radio shows, visiting schools and hospitals, alternately fascinating and shocking Greeks with his fiery speeches.
"Clergymen are above kings, prime ministers and presidents," he once said.
Within months, he had expounded on everything from Greece's economy to relations with Turkey, leading some politicians to grumble about his apparent political ambitions.
A spate of scandals which saw senior clerics accused of embezzlement, involvement in sexual misdeeds and even trial-fixing in 2005 led to calls for his resignation. Christodoulos publicly apologized for failing to contain the scandal and defeated a no-confidence motion in the church's governing Holy Synod by a vote of 67-1.
But public criticism quickly faded after he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and large intestine in June, and he was widely praised for the strength and dignity he showed during his illness. He refused hospital treatment in his final weeks.
The government declared four days of mourning, culminating in a funeral in Athens with full state honors Thursday. Christodoulos' body will lie in the capital's cathedral until then.
The Holy Synod has set the start of the election to chose a successor for Feb. 7.
"The Archbishop worked to bring people closer to the church ... now his tireless voice has fallen silent," the Patriarchate said. "His parting is painful."
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of the Holy Land Theofilos III described Christodoulos as "a very dynamic church leader... He was a man who worked in order to promote reconciliation and coexistence and mutual tolerance between the religions."
In a statement, President Bush said, "The late Archbishop was well known as an articulate voice of the Orthodox faith, for his engagement in inter-religious dialogue, and for his promotion of social programs to help the vulnerable. Our prayers are with the people of Greece and all those who followed his spiritual guidance."
HAT TIP TO STEVE:
At present, the Education and Science Ministry has been developing a new level of educational standards, Metropolitan Kliment said. On behalf of the Orthodox Church Metropolitan Kliment asked to take all possible measures so that experts who are working on educational standards now should include a new subject -- Orthodox culture, into a school curriculum to enable children from Orthodox families to study Orthodox, moral and spiritual culture, the metropolitan said.
The new school subject aims to teach children to tell the right from wrong, to imbue them with a sense of responsibility, love and respect for man despite national and religious differences and help them assume their own position in life, the metropolitan said.
Ancient oasis: The St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, framed by the Chugach Mountains, sits on the grounds of Eklutna Village, one of the nation's more unusual tribal territories.
from the January 28, 2008 edition
Many decades ago, the fish were so thick in the Eklutna River that you could practically walk on them, says Julia Cooper, who grew up as one of a dozen children in a two-room cabin nearby. In the 1960s and '70s, homes were heated by wood stoves and residents hauled water from a spring across the highway, says Irene Chilligan, another local.
The near-urban setting has its obvious advantages – access to jobs, medical and social services, shopping, and schools.
Their efforts are low key, as befits a tribe that shuns self-promotion. But they are pushing to revive a language that has almost disappeared and to garner more recognition from an outside world that, until recently, was barely aware of the tribe's existence.
Eklutna does offer a small slice of bush Alaska in the big city. The tribal headquarters office, clinic, and support buildings are mostly a collection of trailers. In typical rural Alaska fashion, old vehicles and machines that can be cannibalized for parts lie scattered about. A few sagging couches and easy chairs perch in the woods. It's all in sharp contrast to the well-heeled suburbs just to the east.
The faith is not a thing of the past here. Adjacent to the historic church, which holds icons of saints considered so fragile that flash photography isn't allowed inside, stands a modern Orthodox church built a century later. It is used for special religious and family events. The Russian Orthodox Diocese of Alaska maintains the facilities, conducts regular tours, and has even established a new monastery here.
To this day, Eklutna Dena'ina have struggled to keep their identity from being overwhelmed by the outsiders who have transformed their homeland into Alaska's dominant city. "It was hard for us because we lost our language," says Dorothy Cook, president of the Eklutna native village. "If we were more remote, we would have held onto it."
The state-owned Alaska Railroad has struck a deal with village elders to return a pair of cultural icons to the Eklutna people. Two geologic "knobs," initially quarried during World War II to supply gravel for the railroad without permission from the natives, are central to the tribe's cultural identity.
In a departure from the past, a corporation set up to make money for the Eklutna people is increasingly promoting the tribe's culture as well. Eklutna Inc. is a for-profit corporation created by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Like other native corporations in the state, Eklutna Inc. operates separately from its tribal counterpart.
To help preserve the tribe's heritage, the corporation is likely to lease rather than sell land in the future – particularly parcels near the Eklutna Village. "They don't want to sell the land. Once it's sold, it's gone," says Jim Arnesen, Eklutna Inc.'s land manager.
Despite the proximity to supermarkets, shopping malls, and drive-by espresso stands, Eklutna tribal members still rely on local woodlands and rivers as an important source of food. The village's surrounded-by-a-city status merits it a special "educational" fishing permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for personal harvests.
"We get our fish," is all she will say.
Pianist Jordan Stopciati, of St. Patrick's parish, accompanies the four choirs from St. Mark's United, St. James Anglican, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox and St. Patrick's Roman Catholic churches at the Christian unity dinner on Sunday night.
Gino Donato/ the sudbury star
"It's a sign of hope in a broke world," Rev. Jim Hutton, of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, said about the event.
It was the second year the Christian Unity Dinner was held. This year, it was held at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on Ester Road.
"It's an event that was dreamed up last year as a way to promote Christian Unity Week," Hutton said. "This particular year was the 100th anniversary of that effort for Christians to come together and pray about trying to be one."
The week of prayer encourages Christians of all denominations to meet, participate in liturgical and other community activities and pray together that all may be one.
He said all of the churches at the national level have been involved for a number of years in dialogue. He is also involved in dialogue with the Greek Orthodox church leaders, whom he meets with once a year.
Rev. John Mathew, minister at St. Mark's United Church, said there is a lot of room for church leaders and members to forget about their differences.
He said church members do work on some projects together, such as work with the poor.
Hutton belongs to a group called Sudbury Ministerial, a small group of church leaders who gather regularly for prayer and to share a meal. This has also helped bridge gaps between the churches.
The annual dinner is another way to encourage unity.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Commemorated on January 28
Saint Ephraim the Syrian, a teacher of repentance, was born at the beginning of the fourth century in the city of Nisibis (Mesopotamia) into the family of impoverished toilers of the soil. His parents raised their son in piety, but from his childhood he was known for his quick temper and impetuous character. He often had fights, acted thoughtlessly, and even doubted God's Providence. He finally recovered his senses by the grace of God, and embarked on the path of repentance and salvation.
Once, he was unjustly accused of stealing a sheep and was thrown into prison. He heard a voice in a dream calling him to repent and correct his life. After this, he was acquitted of the charges and set free.
The young man ran off to the mountains to join the hermits. This form of Christian asceticism had been introduced by a disciple of St Anthony the Great, the Egyptian desert dweller Eugenius.
St James of Nisibis (January 13) was a noted ascetic, a preacher of Christianity and denouncer of the Arians. St Ephraim became one of his disciples. Under the direction of the holy hierarch, St Ephraim attained Christian meekness, humility, submission to God's will, and the strength to undergo various temptations without complaint.
St James transformed the wayward youth into a humble and conrite monk. Realizing the great worth of his disciple, he made use of his talents. He trusted him to preach sermons, to instruct children in school, and he took Ephraim with him to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea (in the year 325). St Ephraim was in obedience to St James for fourteen years, until the bishop's death in 338.
After the capture of Nisibis by the Persians in 363, St Ephraim went to a monastery near the city of Edessa. Here he saw many great ascetics, passing their lives in prayer and psalmody. Their caves were solitary shelters, and they fed themselves with a certain plant.
He became especially close to the ascetic Julian (October 18), who was of one mind with him. St Ephraim combined asceticism with a ceaseless study of the Word of God, taking from it both solace and wisdom for his soul. The Lord gave him a gift of teaching, and people began to come to him, wanting to hear his counsel, which produced compunction in the soul, since he began with self-accusation. Both verbally and in writing, St Ephraim instructed everyone in repentance, faith and piety, and he denounced the Arian heresy, which at that time was causing great turmoil. Pagans who heard the preaching of the saint were converted to Christianity.
He also wrote the first Syriac commentary on the Pentateuch (i.e. "Five Books") of Moses. He wrote many prayers and hymns, thereby enriching the Church's liturgical services. Famous prayers of St Ephraim are to the Most Holy Trinity, to the Son of God, and to the Most Holy Theotokos. He composed hymns for the Twelve Great Feasts of the Lord (the Nativity of Christ, the Baptism, the Resurrection), and funeral hymns. St Ephraim's Prayer of Repentance, "O Lord and Master of my life...", is recited during Great Lent, and it summons Christians to spiritual renewal.
From ancient times the Church has valued the works of St Ephraim. His works were read publicly in certain churches after the Holy Scripture, as St Jerome tells us. At present, the Church Typikon prescribes certain of his instructions to be read on the days of Lent. Among the prophets, St David is the preeminent psalmodist; among the Fathers of the Church, St Ephraim the Syrian is the preeminent man of prayer. His spiritual experience made him a guide for monastics and a help to the pastors of Edessa. St Ephraim wrote in Syriac, but his works were very early translated into Greek and Armenian. Translations into Latin and Slavonic were made from the Greek text.
In many of St Ephraim's works we catch glimpses of the life of the Syrian ascetics, which was centered on prayer and working in various obediences for the common good of the brethren. The outlook of all the Syrian ascetics was the same. The monks believed that the goal of their efforts was communion with God and the acquisition of divine grace. For them, the present life was a time of tears, fasting and toil.
"If the Son of God is within you, then His Kingdom is also within you. Thus, the Kingdom of God is within you, a sinner. Enter into yourself, search diligently and without toil you shall find it. Outside of you is death, and the door to it is sin. Enter into yourself, dwell within your heart, for God is there."
Constant spiritual sobriety, the developing of good within man's soul gives him the possibility to take upon himself a task like blessedness, and a self-constraint like sanctity. The requital is presupposed in the earthly life of man, it is an undertaking of spiritual perfection by degrees. Whoever grows himself wings upon the earth, says St Ephraim, is one who soars up into the heights; whoever purifies his mind here below, there glimpses the Glory of God. In whatever measure each one loves God, he is, by God's love,satiated to fullness according to that measure. Man, cleansing himself and attaining the grace of the Holy Spirit while still here on earth, has a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. To attain to life eternal, in the teachings of St Ephraim, does not mean to pass over from one realm of being into another, but rather to discover "the heavenly," spiritual condition of being. Eternal life is not bestown on man through God's one-sided efforts, but rather, it constantly grows like a seed within him by his efforts, toils and struggles.
The pledge within us of "theosis" (or "deification") is the Baptism of Christ, and the main force that drives the Christian life is repentance. St Ephraim was a great teacher of repentance. The forgiveness of sins in the Mystery of Repentance, according to his teaching, is not an external exoneration, not a forgetting of the sins, but rather their complete undoing, their annihilation. The tears of repentance wash away and burn away the sin. Moreover, they (i.e. the tears) enliven, they transfigure sinful nature, they give the strength "to walk in the way of the the Lord's commandments," encouraging hope in God. In the fiery font of repentance, the saint wrote, "you sail yourself across, O sinner, you resurrect yourself from the dead."
St Ephraim, accounting himself as the least and worst of all, went to Egypt at the end of his life to see the efforts of the great ascetics. He was accepted there as a welcome guest and received great solace from conversing with them. On his return journey he visited at Caesarea in Cappadocia with St Basil the Great (January 1), who wanted to ordain him a priest, but he considered himself unworthy of the priesthood. At the insistence of St Basil, he consented only to be ordained as a deacon, in which rank he remained until his death. Later on, St Basil invited St Ephraim to accept a bishop's throne, but the saint feigned madness in order to avoid this honor, humbly regarding himself as unworthy of it.
After his return to his own Edessa wilderness, St Ephraim hoped to spend the rest of his life in solitude, but divine Providence again summoned him to serve his neighbor. The inhabitants of Edessa were suffering from a devastating famine. By the influence of his word, the saint persuaded the wealthy to render aid to those in need. From the offerings of believers he built a poor-house for the poor and sick. St Ephraim then withdrew to a cave near Edessa, where he remained to the end of his days.
Troparion - Tone 8
By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile,and your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance.By the radiance of miracles you illumined the whole universe!Our Father Ephraim, pray to Christ God to save our souls!
Kontakion - Tone 2
Ever anticipating the hour of Judgment,you lamented bitterly, venerable Ephraim.Through your deeds you were a teacher by example;therefore, universal Father, you rouse the slothful to repentance.
12:00 AM CST on Sunday, January 27, 2008
By STEVE THOMPSON / The Dallas Morning News email@example.com
To one Arlington car burglar, it seems nothing is sacred.
He or she, or maybe they, stole a Greek Orthodox bishop's jeweled crown woven of gold and silver Friday evening. His New Testament Bible was also taken.
"We parked in a brightly lit place, and with all the lights there, we thought we were fine," said Metropolitan Isaiah, a bishop who ministers to many states, including Texas.
Visiting from Denver to meet with area parishes, the bishop was dining with others at the Piccolo Mondo restaurant in Arlington when the burglar struck.
"We came out at 10 o'clock, and the window was smashed," the bishop said. From the back seat, someone had grabbed his symbolic crown, his Bible, his veil and his cellphone.
A black fabric bag that is dear to the bishop – who also is an ex-Marine – was also stolen. The bag was a gift given many years ago by the widow of another Marine.
"It has my name on it, embroidered Metropolitan Isaiah, so who can use it?" he said Saturday evening after attending a vespers service where he was the only priest with no head-covering.
He is to lead worship services this morning at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Fort Worth.
"It'll be the first time in my years as a bishop that I will serve the Divine Liturgy without the crown," he said.
Nor did it appear he would have his Bible to refer to this morning.
"I've had that for 30 years, and I know exactly where to go to when I want to find something," he said.
The crown, a gift to him 22 years ago, would cost $6,000 to $10,000 to replace, the bishop guessed.
"So I'm willing to give a monetary gift in the four figures if I receive it the way I last saw it," he said.
Anyone with information can call St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church at 817-626-5578.
"I just hope and pray that those who took it will have a change of heart," said the bishop, who has spent the past 45 years as a clergyman trying to teach people to treat one another properly – "not to take advantage of people and not to take things that don't belong to us."
Staff photographer Evans Caglage contributed to this report.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Saint John Chrysostom This great ecumenical teacher and hierarch died in the city of Comana in the year 407 on his way to a place of exile. He had been condemned by the intrigues of the empress Eudoxia because of his daring denunciation of the vices ruling over Constantinople. The transfer of his venerable relics was made in the year 438, thirty years after the death of the saint during the reign of Eudoxia's son emperor Theodosius II (408-450).
St John Chrysostom had the warm love and deep respect of the people, and grief over his untimely death lived on in the hearts of Christians. St John's disciple, St Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople (434-447), during services in the Church of Hagia Sophia, preached a sermon praising St John. He said, "O John, your life was filled with sorrow, but your death was glorious. Your grave is blessed and reward is great, by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus ChriSt O graced one, having conquered the bounds of time and place! Love has conquered space, unforgetting memory has annihilated the limits, and place does not hinder the miracles of the saint."
Those who were present in church, deeply touched by the words of St Proclus, did not allow him even to finish his sermon. With one accord they began to entreat the Patriarch to intercede with the emperor, so that the relics of St John might be brought back to Constantinople.
The emperor, overwhelmed by St Proclus, gave his consent and gave the order to transfer the relics of St John. But those he sent were unable to lift the holy relics until the emperor realized that he had sent men to take the saint's relics from Comana with an edict, instead of with a prayer. He wrote a letter to St John, humbly asking him to forgive his audacity, and to return to Constantinople. After the message was read at the grave of St John, they easily took up the relics, carried them onto a ship and arrived at Constantinople.
The coffin with the relics was placed in the Church of Holy Peace (Hagia Eirene). When Patriarch Proclus opened the coffin, the body of St John was found to be incorrupt. The emperor approached the coffin with tears, asking forgiveness for his mother, who had banished St John. All day and night people did not leave the coffin.
In the morning the coffin was brought to the Church of the Holy Apostles. The people cried out, "Father, take up your throne." Then Patriarch Proclus and the clergy standing by the relics saw St John open his mouth and say, "Peace be to all." Many of the sick were healed at his tomb.
The celebration of the transfer of the relics of St John Chrysostom was established in the ninth century.
Troparion - Tone 8
Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has enlightened the universe;It has shone to the world the riches of poverty;It has revealed to us the heights of humility.Teaching us by your words, O Father John Chrysostom,Intercede before the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls.
Kontakion - Tone 6
Having received divine grace from heaven,You teach all men to adore the one God in three persons.O all-blessed John Chrysostom, we rightly praise you,For you are our teacher, revealing things divine!
The "delicate topic" of a meeting between the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, and Alexi II would require serious discussions between both sides.
The Vatican recently invited the Russian primate to visit Rome to mark St Paul's year.
The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have been separated since a schism in the 11th century. Relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church remain strained despite ecumenical efforts by Pope Benedict.
Recognition of the ecumenical status of the İstanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarchate should no longer be a "taboo" subject, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said yesterday, triggering curiosity over whether the Turkish government has plans to amend the country's long-established policy on the controversial issue.
Babacan's remarks came in İstanbul in response to a question from a correspondent ahead of his departure for the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum. His statement followed earlier remarks by PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the issue.
"As a matter of fact, the ecumenical issue is an internal issue of the Orthodox Christian world. Turkey's positive attitude [toward the patriarchate] has been revealed in the elections [of patriarchs] and is obvious," Erdoğan said, without elaborating and in an apparent reference to the fact that the patriarchs have been elected freely by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate since the 1923 foundation of the Turkish Republic.
Babacan initially referred the correspondent to Erdoğan's remarks, describing the issue as "an internal issue" for the Orthodox world.
Erdoğan's remarks have already been interpreted as a divergence from Ankara's well-known stance considering the patriarchate a domestic issue since it is by law a Turkish institution.
Yet, a senior diplomat, speaking with Today's Zaman following the prime minister's remarks, made clear that the remarks by no means signal a shift in Ankara's policy. "A change of policy, even the slightest one signaling the possibility of recognition of an 'ecumenical' status for the patriarchate, is out of the question. As a matter of fact, the prime minister's remarks are a reconfirmation of Ankara's stance. What he meant is the fact that Turkey, as a secular state, is not in a position to consider the patriarchate's religious status. It is an internal issue for the Orthodox world," the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
Turkey has also been resisting EU pressure to reopen the Halki seminary on the island of Heybeliada near İstanbul, which was closed to new students in 1971 under a law that put religious and military training under state control. The theological school once trained generations of Greek Orthodox leaders, including the current patriarch. The seminary remained open until 1985, when the last five students graduated.
The same diplomat also noted that Erdoğan's remarks describing the ecumenical controversy as an "internal matter," could also be interpreted as a reference to ongoing divides within the Orthodox world. Bartholomew is called the "first among equals" among the Orthodox leaders, but he wields little real power over the world's more than 250 million Orthodox souls. That power rests with the patriarchs of the various self-governing churches, the largest of which is the Russian Orthodox Church of Patriarch Alexy II. The Russian Orthodox Church is said to be increasingly aggressive in contesting the leadership of Bartholomew.
İstanbul’s neighborhoods developed in such a way that they grew up around religious cores such as churches, mosques and synagogues, with a good example of this phenomenon found in Balat.
Despite its predominantly Jewish population, people of different religions and ethnicities have lived, and continue to do so in smaller numbers, and worked there side by side, with the urban mix of the area the result of the neighborhood’s diverse ethnic population.
One of many examples of a synthesis of different architectural forms, Surp Hreşdagabet (also known as Holy Archangels) was originally a Greek Orthodox church known by the name of Hagios Eustration that was built in the 13th century and was given to the Armenian community as a gesture of good will in 1627. It is also said that the church was then blessed by Stepanos of Bursa.
The church underwent restoration in 1628, according to the inscription on the wall behind its altar; however, the present building dates from 1835 and was built after the original wooden church was destroyed by fire several times. The side chapel and the ayazma (sacred spring) in the building are original Byzantine features. The ayazma is said to be built upon the bones of St. Antonios, discovered during the latest restoration.
The reliefs depicting St. George killing a dragon and Jesus chasing thieves as well as the cast iron door that has German and Latin inscriptions on each side and opens from the main room to a side gallery are impressive. This door, dating back to 1727, is said to have been discovered in an excavation during the reign of Sultan Mahmut I in Topkapı Palace.
Wandering through the streets of Balat is sufficient to realize how different ethno-religious groups rubbed shoulders in this district. Ferruh Kethüda Mosque is within easy reach of Surp Hreşdagabet. Another church and synagogue also stand near by.
Some facts on İstanbul’s Armenian community:
In addition to large groups of Armenians summoned to the new capital, Mehmed II also brought to İstanbul Bishop Hovakim of Brussa (today’s Bursa), whom he made patrik (patriarch) over all Armenians and non-Orthodox Christians in his territories and gave him all the privileges accorded to the Greek Orthodox patriarch in 1461.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Commemorated on January 26
Saint Xenophon, his wife Maria, and their sons Arcadius and John, were noted citizens of Constantinople and lived in the fifth century. Despite their riches and position, they distinguished themselves by their simplicity of soul and goodness of heart. Wishing to give their sons John and Arcadius a more complete education, they sent them off to the Phoenician city of Beirut.
By divine Providence the ship on which both brothers sailed was wrecked. The waves tossed the brothers ashore at different places. Grieved at being separated, the brothers dedicated themselves to God and became monks. For a long time the parents had no news of their children and presumed them to be dead.
Xenophon, however, already quite old, maintained a firm hope in the Lord and consoled his wife Maria, telling her not to be sad, but to believe that the Lord watched over their children. After several years the couple made a pilgrimage to the holy places, and at Jerusalem they met their sons, living in asceticsm at different monasteries. The joyful parents gave thanks to the Lord for reuniting the family.
Sts Xenophon and Maria went to separate monasteries and dedicated themselves to God. The monks Arcadius and John, having taken leave of their parents, went out into the wilderness, where after long ascetic toil they were glorified by gifts of wonderworking and discernment. Sts Xenophon and Maria, laboring in silence and strict fasting, also received from God the gift of wonderworking.
Troparion - Tone 4
O God of our Fathers,always act with kindness towards us;take not Your mercy from us,but guide our lives in peacethrough the prayers of Venerable Xenophon and his family.
Kontakion - Tone 4
You kept vigil in the courts of the Lord with your wife and two children, blessed Xenophon,and you gladly lavished your wealth on the poor.Therefore, you have inherited divine joy.
Brussels, January 25, Interfax - Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria, a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in European international organizations, has drawn the attention of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to the increase in the crime against Christians in Europe.
"We often hear about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and very little is said about Christianophobia, which is gaining strength in many European countries," Bishop Hilarion said during a meeting between Barosso and representatives of the Orthodox Churches to the European Union.
Among the forms of Christianophobia in Europe, Bishop Hilarion mentioned the removal of Christian symbols from the public sphere, the denigration of Christianity and refusal to recognize the Christian heritage of Europe, the persecution of people who openly express Christian convictions and who choose to live according to Christian moral standards."
Mentioning the recent discussion of the matter in the British parliament, Bishop Hilarion called for a similar discussion in European international organizations and called on representatives of the European churches to take part in it.
He also informed the European Commission president on the recent initiatives by the Russian Orthodox Church regarding the human rights debate.
Greece's prime minister pledged support on Thursday for the rights of Turkey's tiny Greek Orthodox community during an audience with Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians.
Costas Karamanlis is on the second day of an official visit to Turkey that caps a steady thaw in bilateral relations as the two ancient rivals try to set aside disputes over Cyprus and the Aegean and focus on booming trade and business links.
Istanbul is the ancient seat of Orthodox Christianity but Greek Orthodox, who make up 20,000 of the Turkey's 71 million people, often complain of discrimination and prejudice in the predominantly Muslim but secular country.
"I am fully aware of the difficulties of the present time. In the struggle to defend the Patriarchate's rights we will not waver, we will not back down," Karamanlis told reporters after his meeting with Bartholomew.
"The opening of the Halki seminary is a top priority for us," he said, referring to a training college for priests shut down by Turkish authorities in 1972.
Bartholomew has said failure to reopen the seminary, located on an island near Istanbul, could spell the end of the Greek Orthodox church in Turkey. The European Union, which Turkey hopes to join, has also called for the reopening of the school.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim, said on Wednesday after talks with Karamanlis in the capital Ankara that his government was working on the problem.
Some Turks fear reopening the Halki seminary will lead to a relaxation of laws governing Muslim schools in Turkey, which still keeps religion under tight state control and fears a possible increase in militant Islam.
Bartholomew, an ethnic Greek but Turkish citizen, said he hoped Karamanlis's visit would cement better ties with Turkey.
"We believe the people of Turkey and Greece can live in love and brotherhood under the same sky, which we hope will never be clouded by conflict," the bearded patriarch said.
Bartholomew has also been locked in a dispute with Turkey over his use of the ancient title "ecumenical", which means "universal" in Greek. Turkey argues that the title has political overtones that could undermine Turkish sovereignty.
Erdogan seemed to signal a softer stance on Wednesday when he said the title was an internal matter of the Orthodox Church.
Turkish nationalists often accuse Bartholomew of wanting to create a Vatican-style mini-state in the heart of Istanbul, a claim the Patriarch and most foreign diplomats reject as absurd.
Istanbul, the former Constantinople, was capital of the Greek-speaking Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire for centuries until it fell to Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453.
History was also keenly felt earlier on Thursday when Karamanlis visited the mausoleum in Ankara housing the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish republic who once drove Greek armies into the sea.
Karamanlis laid a wreath at Ataturk's tomb but did not visit the mausoleum's museum, which celebrates Turkey's crushing military victory over Greece in 1922 with models, pictures, memorabilia and recordings of martial music.
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Thursday, January 24, 2008By Kathy Tzilivakis
Seven village priests in the northeastern Greek prefecture of Arta have joined forces to campaign against the exploitation of immigrant workers.
Their message is clear: zero tolerance towards slave wages, sweatshop conditions and racism.
"We sent an open letter to the local media here in Arta in hopes of raising public awareness about the plight of immigrant workers in Greece," Father Haralambos of the town of Grammenitsa told the Athens News. "There are people who have fled their homeland, where they can never return, who endure low wages, long hours and substandard accommodation. We have to help them."
Father Haralambos and six priests from the Arta towns of Kalamia, Kostakio, Rokka, Hanopoulou and Halkiadon, where the total population does not exceed 10,000, launched their campaign to promote the rights of immigrants living and working in Greece on Christmas Eve after dozens of Romanian immigrants, including young children, nearly died during a fire started in a makeshift wood stove. The immigrants were housed in squalid conditions on a poultry farm in the town of Kostakio.
"People from faraway countries are outside our door naked and in need," reads the priests' letter. "A complete lack of compassion and shame is reminiscent of the Dark Ages... We don't care about a person's needs or his pain. He is cheap labour. What will he eat? Who cares where will he sleep?"
But pressure has been building on employers in Greece to treat immigrant workers fairly. After a landmark Supreme Court ruling was passed in November, employers are thinking twice about exploiting migrant workers, including those who are undocumented.
The court sided with two Albanian farm workers who claimed they had been paid much less than the minimum wage and systematically denied overtime pay before and after they secured legal residence status. Based on the ruling, even undocumented migrants are entitled to collect unpaid wages, plus a penalty, from their unscrupulous employers. Had the court ruled otherwise, it would have reduced employers' potential liability and made it more financially attractive to hire undocumented workers.
As the debate over the one million-odd immigrants in Greece grows increasingly heated and messy, Father Haralambos, who was ordained eight years ago, says he has started using his religious message to express support for immigrants and call for legislative reform.
Father Haralambos says he believes the Greek state is not doing enough to promote the integration of immigrants, who currently make up 10 percent of the country's population of roughly 11 million.
"We need a more organised effort from the state," he says. "We are trying to do what we can to help immigrants. We collect food and clothing, but we need more organised efforts... We have to help them no matter what. We are deeply troubled by the situation today."
A religious response
It is not the first time the Greek Church has spoken out on the issue. Three years ago, Archbishop Christodoulos told an Athens conference that the state and society ought to "embrace" immigrants. Taking a pro-immigrant stance, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church said Greeks must respect the human rights of all foreigners.
"The Greek Church wants and can contribute to the integration of migrants, regardless of their ethnicity and religion," he said.
This past November and December, Father Timotheos Anthis of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece and local Muslim Imam Munir Mahmood held joint talks around Athens in an effort to spread an inter-faith message of solidarity. These public dialogues were arranged by the synod as part of European Union-wide activities marking the end of the 2007 Year of Equal Opportunities.
According to research conducted by the synod, immigrant Muslims residing in Athens suffer racism and ethnic discrimination, especially in the labour market. Many of the immigrant Muslims participating in the survey expressed displeasure with employers who they said do not respect their religious holidays and celebrations.
Greece secured 3.6 million euros from the European Union last year to help fund its new initiative to integrate the country's immigrants into the workplace and society. The integration plan, known as Estia (Home), was drafted by the interior ministry. It is the country's first ever major attempt to integrate immigrants.
But a new report drafted by a special parliamentary committee has found that xenophobia is rife in Greece. Ruling New Democracy MP Elsa Papadimitriou, who chaired the committee, told a session of parliament last week that Greek society "has caught the social ailment - the epidemic of racism and xenophobia".
"Immigration is a parameter of globalisation, and we must look at it through the prism of peaceful cohabitation of peoples," Papadimitriou told parliament.
Leftist parliamentarians took the opportunity to call for a general amnesty for all undocumented migrants.
Kathy Tzilivakis writes for Athens News and appears here with permission.
ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) - The Orthodox church says it's a historic monastery, and the Turkish government describes it as old pig farm. A dispute over a dilapidated structure highlights tension over Turkey's religious minorities, a key concern as the European Union considers membership for the Muslim-majority nation.In November, forest ministry officials knocked down part
of a building that the church said was a monastery on Heybeliada, an island in the Sea of Marmara off Istanbul. They said renovation there was illegal because it was taking place on government property.Now the ruins are the subject of a legal battle between the government and the Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarchate, which has been hosting Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis during his trip to Turkey this week, the first by a Greek premier in almost five decades.Greece has been an advocate of the Greek Orthodox minority in Turkey, though Greek opposition parties have blamed the government for not doing enough to support the dwindling community.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Commemorated on January 25
Saint Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople, a great Father and teacher of the Church, was born into a Christian family of eminent lineage in the year 329, at Arianzos (not far from the city of Cappadocian Nazianzos). His father, also named Gregory (January 1), was Bishop of Nazianzus. The son is the St Gregory Nazianzus encountered in Patristic theology. His pious mother, St Nonna (August 5), prayed to God for a son, vowing to dedicate him to the Lord. Her prayer was answered, and she named her child Gregory.
When the child learned to read, his mother presented him with the Holy Scripture. St Gregory received a complete and extensive education: after working at home with his uncle St Amphilochius (November 23), an experienced teacher of rhetoric, he then studied in the schools of Nazianzos, Caesarea in Cappadocia, and Alexandria. Then the saint decided to go to Athens to complete his education.
On the way from Alexandria to Greece, a terrible storm raged for many days. St Gregory, who was just a catechumen at that time, feared that he would perish in the sea before being cleansed in the waters of Baptism. St Gregory lay in the ship's stern for twenty days, beseeching the merciful God for salvation. He vowed to dedicate himself to God, and was saved when he invoked the name of the Lord.
St Gregory spent six years in Athens studying rhetoric, poetry, geometry, and astronomy. His teachers were the renowned pagan rhetoricians Gymorias and Proeresias. St Basil, the future Archbishop of Caesarea (January 1) also studied in Athens with St Gregory. They were such close friends that they seemed to be one soul in two bodies. Julian, the future emperor (361-363) and apostate from the Christian Faith, was studying philosophy in Athens at the same time.
Upon completing his education, St Gregory remained for a certain while at Athens as a teacher of rhetoric. He was also familiar with pagan philosophy and literature.
In 358 St Gregory quietly left Athens and returned to his parents at Nazianzus. At thirty-three years of age, he received Baptism from his father, who had been appointed Bishop of Nazianzus. Against his will, St Gregory was ordained to the holy priesthood by his father. However, when the elder Gregory wished to make him a bishop, he fled to join his friend Basil in Pontus. St Basil had organized a monastery in Pontus and had written to Gregory inviting him to come.
St Gregory remained with St Basil for several years. When his brother St Caesarius (March 9) died, he returned home to help his father administer his diocese. The local church was also in turmoil because of the Arian heresy. St Gregory had the difficult task of reconciling the bishop with his flock, who condemned their pastor for signing an ambiguous interpretation of the dogmas of the faith.
St Gregory convinced his father of the pernicious nature of Arianism, and strengthened him in Orthodoxy. At this time, Bishop Anthimus, who pretended to be Orthodox but was really a heretic, became Metropolitan of Tyana. St Basil had been consecrated as the Archbishop of Caesarea, Cappadocia. Anthimus wished to separate from St Basil and to divide the province of Cappadocia.
St Basil the Great made St Gregory bishop of the city of Sasima, a small town between Caesarea and Tyana. However, St Gregory remained at Nazianzos in order to assist his dying father, and he guided the flock of this city for a while after the death of his father in 374.
Upon the death of Patriarch Valentus of Constantinople in the year 378, a council of bishops invited St Gregory to help the Church of Constantinople, which at this time was ravaged by heretics. Obtaining the consent of St Basil the Great, St Gregory came to Constantinople to combat heresy. In the year 379 he began to serve and preach in a small church called "Anastasis" ("Resurrection"). Like David fighting the Philistines with a sling, St Gregory battled against impossible odds to defeat false doctrine.
Heretics were in the majority in the capital, Arians, Macedonians, and Appolinarians. The more he preached, the more did the number of heretics decrease, and the number of the Orthodox increased. On the night of Pascha (April 21, 379) when St Gregory was baptizing catechumens, a mob of armed heretics burst into the church and cast stones at the Orthodox, killing one bishop and wounding St Gregory. But the fortitude and mildness of the saint were his armor, and his words converted many to the Orthodox Church.
St Gregory's literary works (orations, letters, poems) show him as a worthy preacher of the truth of Christ. He had a literary gift, and the saint sought to offer his talent to God the Word: "I offer this gift to my God, I dedicate this gift to Him. Only this remains to me as my treasure. I gave up everything else at the command of the Spirit. I gave all that I had to obtain the pearl of great price. Only in words do I master it, as a servant of the Word. I would never intentionally wish to disdain this wealth. I esteem it, I set value by it, I am comforted by it more than others are comforted by all the treasures of the world. It is the companion of all my life, a good counselor and converser; a guide on the way to Heaven and a fervent co-ascetic." In order to preach the Word of God properly, the saint carefully prepared and revised his works.
In five sermons, or "Theological Orations," St Gregory first of all defines the characteristics of a theologian, and who may theologize. Only those who are experienced can properly reason about God, those who are successful at contemplation and, most importantly, who are pure in soul and body, and utterly selfless. To reason about God properly is possible only for one who enters into it with fervor and reverence.
Explaining that God has concealed His Essence from mankind, St Gregory demonstrates that it is impossible for those in the flesh to view mental objects without a mixture of the corporeal. Talking about God in a positive sense is possible only when we become free from the external impressions of things and from their effects, when our guide, the mind, does not adhere to impure transitory images. Answering the Eunomians, who would presume to grasp God's Essence through logical speculation, the saint declared that man perceives God when the mind and reason become godlike and divine, i.e. when the image ascends to its Archetype. (Or. 28:17). Furthermore, the example of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets and also the Apostles has demonstrated, that the Essence of God is incomprehensible for mortal man. St Gregory cited the futile sophistry of Eunomios: "God begat the Son either through His will, or contrary to will. If He begat contrary to will, then He underwent constraint. If by His will, then the Son is the Son of His intent."
Confuting such reasoning, St Gregory points out the harm it does to man: "You yourself, who speak so thoughtlessly, were you begotten voluntarily or involuntarily by your father? If involuntarily, then your father was under the sway of some tyrant. Who? You can hardly say it was nature, for nature is tolerant of chastity. If it was voluntarily, then by a few syllables you deprive yourself of your father, for thus you are shown to be the son of Will, and not of your father" (Or. 29:6).
St Gregory then turns to Holy Scripture, with particular attention examining a place where it points out the Divine Nature of the Son of God. St Gregory's interpretations of Holy Scripture are devoted to revealing that the divine power of the Savior was actualized even when He assumed an impaired human nature for the salvation of mankind.
The first of St Gregory's Five Theological Orations is devoted to arguments against the Eunomians for their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Closely examining everything that is said in the Gospel about the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the saint refutes the heresy of Eunomios, which rejected the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He comes to two fundamental conclusions. First, in reading Holy Scripture, it is necessary to reject blind literalism and to try and understand its spiritual sense. Second, in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit operated in a hidden way. "Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us and makes the manifestation of Himself more certain. It was not safe, as long as they did not acknowledge the divinity of the Father, to proclaim openly that of the Son; and as long as the divinity of the Son was not accepted, they could not, to express it somewhat boldly, impose on us the burden of the Holy Spirit" (Or. 31:26).
The divinity of the Holy Spirit is a sublime subject. "Look at these facts: Christ is born, the Holy Spirit is His Forerunner. Christ is baptized, the Spirit bears witness to this... Christ works miracles, the Spirit accompanies them. Christ ascends, the Spirit takes His place. What great things are there in the idea of God which are not in His power? What titles appertaining to God do not apply also to Him, except for Unbegotten and Begotten? I tremble when I think of such an abundance of titles, and how many Names they blaspheme, those who revolt against the Spirit!" (Or. 31:29).
The Orations of St Gregory are not limited only to this topic. He also wrote Panegyrics on Saints, Festal Orations, two invectives against Julian the Apostate, "two pillars, on which the impiety of Julian is indelibly written for posterity," and various orations on other topics. In all, forty-five of St Gregory's orations have been preserved.
The letters of the saint compare favorably with his best theological works. All of them are clear, yet concise. In his poems as in all things, St Gregory focused on Christ. "If the lengthy tracts of the heretics are new Psalters at variance with David, and the pretty verses they honor are like a third testament, then we also shall sing Psalms, and begin to write much and compose poetic meters," said the saint. Of his poetic gift the saint wrote: "I am an organ of the Lord, and sweetly... do I glorify the King, all atremble before Him."
The fame of the Orthodox preacher spread through East and West. But the saint lived in the capital as though he still lived in the wilderness: "his food was food of the wilderness; his clothing was whatever necessary. He made visitations without pretense, and though in proximity of the court, he sought nothing from the court."
The saint received a shock when he was ill. One whom he considered as his friend, the philosopher Maximus, was consecrated at Constantinople in St Gregory's place. Struck by the ingratitude of Maximus, the saint decided to resign the cathedra, but his faithful flock restrained him from it. The people threw the usurper out of the city. On November 24, 380 the holy emperor Theodosius arrived in the capital and, in enforcing his decree against the heretics, the main church was returned to the Orthodox, with St Gregory making a solemn entrance. An attempt on the life of St Gregory was planned, but instead the assassin appeared before the saint with tears of repentance.
At the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, St Gregory was chosen as Patriarch of Constantinople. After the death of Patriarch Meletius of Antioch, St Gregory presided at the Council. Hoping to reconcile the West with the East, he offered to recognize Paulinus as Patriarch of Antioch.
Those who had acted against St Gregory on behalf of Maximus, particularly Egyptian and Macedonian bishops, arrived late for the Council. They did not want to acknowledge the saint as Patriarch of Constantinople, since he was elected in their absence.
St Gregory decided to resign his office for the sake of peace in the Church: "Let me be as the Prophet Jonah! I was responsible for the storm, but I would sacrifice myself for the salvation of the ship. Seize me and throw me... I was not happy when I ascended the throne, and gladly would I descend it."
After telling the emperor of his desire to quit the capital, St Gregory appeared again at the Council to deliver a farewell address (Or. 42) asking to be allowed to depart in peace.
Upon his return to his native region, St Gregory turned his attention to the incursion of Appolinarian heretics into the flock of Nazianzus, and he established the pious Eulalius there as bishop, while he himself withdrew into the solitude of Arianzos so dear to his heart. The saint, zealous for the truth of Christ continued to affirm Orthodoxy through his letters and poems, while remaining in the wilderness. He died on January 25, 389, and is honored with the title "Theologian," also given to the holy Apostle and Evangelist John.
In his works St Gregory, like that other Theologian St John, directs everything toward the Pre-eternal Word. St John of Damascus (December 4), in the first part of his book AN EXACT EXPOSITION OF THE ORTHODOX FAITH, followed the lead of St Gregory the Theologian.
St Gregory was buried at Nazianzos. In the year 950, his holy relics were transferred to Constantinople into the church of the Holy Apostles. Later on, a portion of his relics was transferred to Rome.
In appearance, the saint was of medium height and somewhat pale. He had thick eyebrows, and a short beard. His contemporaries already called the archpastor a saint. The Orthodox Church, honors St Gregory as a second Theologian and insightful writer on the Holy Trinity.
"O glorious Father Gregory, Your knowledge has overcome the pride of false wisdom. The church is clothed with your teaching as a robe of righteousness. We your children celebrate your memory crying out: Rejoice, O father of unsurpassable wisdom!" [Kontakion].
Troparion - Tone 1
The sweet-sounding shepherd's pipe of your theology overpowered the trumpeting of the orators; for having searched the depths of the Spirit eloquence was also bestowed upon you. Pray to Christ God, Father Gregory, that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion - Tone 3
By words of theology you unraveled the complex webs of the orators, glorious Gregory, and adorned the Church with the robe of Orthodoxy woven from on high. Wearing it, she cries out with us, her children: "Rejoice, O Father, supreme mind of theology."